President-elect Xiomara Castro has not been sworn in yet, but her administration already faces its first major crisis. Her party split in two Friday, Jan. 21 as some members of National Congress aligned with her political opponents of the National Party and Liberal Party to support Jorge Cálix, a dissenting member of the Libre party, as president of the National Congress, with 85 of 128 votes.
Congress then erupted into shouts and punches, mainly between members of Libre who disagreed over the vote. Cálix and other dissenting members of Libre were escorted out of the chamber Friday as a fight broke out, reports partner outlet ContraCorriente.
Libre has accused the rogue deputies of wanting to “impose a plan of the corrupt elite directed by Juan Orlando Hernández,” and emphasized in a press release that Castro will not be sworn in by a president of Congress “emerged from betrayal,” and will opt to be sworn in by a judge instead. Libre expelled 18 of the congress members from the party for their conduct.
Honduran lawyer Joaquín Mejía told El Faro English the vote to elect Cálix Friday was illegal because it didn’t follow the proper procedure to call for a vote, which includes allowing a discussion. “They arrived. They established their agenda. They did not allow any other congress member to talk, and the election was in a way that was not transparent at all,” Mejía said. “It’s an invalid act.”
Even so, a majority of Honduran Congress ratified Cálix Sunday morning at a country club just outside of Tegucigalpa. Meanwhile, a crowd of Castro supporters gathered at the Congress building. There, Castro and her loyal party congress members and allies swore in their pick: Luis Redondo of the Savior of Honduras Party, founded by Salvador Nasralla. Castro supported Redondo as part of a last-minute party-approved alliance with Nasralla to win the presidency last November. Read more here on Castro's plans for Honduras once she is president.
But their fraction was in the minority. Less than 50 of Congress’s 128 members participated in that vote.
The incident has quickly altered the political atmosphere in Honduras, where the scars of the 2009 coup that removed Castro’s husband Manuel Zelaya from office remain.
Castro and her husband say the dissenting party members are “traitors” who are following their “political ambition.” Libre accused Cálix, whose family has ties to the current Hernández administration, of playing the puppet for the ruling National Party and putting at risk 'the national order.”
It is a preview of the tumult that may await the transition out of 12 years of post-coup rule under the National Party, unlikely to willingly loosen its grip on power given that many prominent members — including President Hernández — face potential corruption or drug trafficking charges in the U.S. or Honduras. On Sunday night, Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., tweeted a message of solidarity with Hondurans and said she will push for an extradition request against Hernández starting Monday.
Political-tied elites made fast moves to ensure impunity after Castro’s November win. President Hernández announced weeks ago in an interview with El País that he will join the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), which could grant him some protection from prosecution. On Thursday, Congress voted to grant honorific positions that ensure impunity to politicians who lost their seats including “friend of drug lords” Óscar Nájera.
Castro has promised to establish a UN-backed anti-corruption body akin to Guatemala’s now-defunct CICIG, form a constituent assembly to restore Honduras’s rule of law, and separate the roles of the civilian police and military, all daunting tasks even before the internal dissent within her party was exposed this week.
“We know that it’s going to be very difficult to create something similar to CICIG in Honduras. If this has to pass through Congress, forget it. And if it depends on funds from the Honduran state, forget it,” a source in the Biden administration told El Faro English on Friday. “We will support the efforts of the government of Xiomara Castro, but we are very conscious of what happened before with the CICIG and MACCIH.”
Julio Raudales, vice rector at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), thinks this is 'just the first of the crises that will occur in the country.”
'There’s a fissure in the party that won the elections,'' he told El Faro English. “This weakens the party and jeopardizes many of the things that Castro could do to benefit the country.”
Two National Congresses
The dissenting members of Libre argued that they had independence from the party when voting, and that a negotiation with other parties was unavoidable because Castro’s candidate Redondo did not have the necessary support.
“No one has a simple majority in Congress. It’s necessary to negotiate with the other political blocs,” dissenting congresswoman Beatriz Valle tweeted before the vote.
Cálix has rejected criticism that says he has aligned with the National Party and seeks to block Castro’s agenda. “This board is at the service of President Xiomara Castro and the Honduran people without distinction of political banners,” Cálix said Sunday.
Raudales says part of the crisis was caused by discontent that has been growing within Libre over how to run the party. But other political interests — mainly the National and Liberal parties — have exploited these differences, he said. “Seeing this crack in Libre, they tried to consolidate themselves and maintain a certain level of power,” Raudales said.
The question that remains is what the Libre congress members offered in exchange for support. “The support of the National and Liberal parties cannot be free,” he added. “Surely, it is based on conditions.”
In an effort to assuage worried Hondurans, after a tense electoral campaign in which many citizens feared fraud or the rejection of results showing Castro’s win, Jorge Cálix addressed the crisis on Sunday: “As long as I hold the presidency of Congress, there will be no coup,” he said.
As of Monday afternoon, Honduras still had two parallel Congressional leaderships, both under suspicion of illegality, a sign that does not bode well for the stability for the first days of Castro’s presidency.
Thanks for your time. Please pass along our work and consider funding independent journalism in Central America, in its most critical hour, at support.elfaro.net.